Straight out of Argo: Five jailed over 'entirely bogus film project'

Landscape of Lies attempted to swindle the taxpayer of £2.8m

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The Independent Online

It's an idea which landed Ben Affleck an Oscar, but today an "entirely bogus film project" landed five people in prison.

And while Argo showed Affleck's character swooping into Iran to save American hostages, this plan sought only to swindle the British taxpayer.

In a £2.8 million VAT and film tax credits scam, the four men and one woman told inspectors that Hollywood stars would be in the UK for the £19.6 million production of Landscape of Lies.

It was set up to claim almost £1.5m in goods and services tax, as well as £1.3m under a government program allowing film-makers to claim back up to 25% of their costs as tax relief.

According to HMRC the film-makers had submitted paperwork and already received £1.7m when checks revealed "that the work had not been done and most of the so-called suppliers and film studios had never heard of the gang."

The group were arrested on suspicion of tax fraud in April 2011, and decided their best shot at avoiding criminal charges was to hastily make a film.

But it was never made and the only footage shot was seven minutes of "completely unusable quality" filmed in a flat and costing just £5,000.

Among the actors duped into signing up to the film were Marc Bannerman, famous for playing Gianni Di Marco in Eastenders, and Loose Women presenter Andrea McLean, starring as bisexual therapist Dr Audrey Grey.

And today at Southwark Crown Court, Bashar Al-Issa, from Maida Vale, London, was jailed for six and a half years. The 34-year-old former Iraqi national, who is now British, was described as the orchestrator.

Actor Aoife Madden, 31, a British and Irish national, of west London, was sentenced to four years and eight months after feeding inspectors a "pack of lies".

Two other defendants - Tariq Hassan, 52, a Pakistani national, of Loughton, Essex, and Osama Al Baghdady, 51, an Iraqi national of Crumpsall, Manchester, received four-year jail sentences.

A fifth defendant, architect Ian Sherwood, 53, of Esher Drive, Sale, Manchester, who allowed his offices to be used for the fraud, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail.

Judge Juliet May said the fraud had been based on an "entirely bogus film project".

Sentencing Madden, the judge branded the documents she prepared “pie in the sky,” adding: “You must have known that they were all a pack of lies.”

And Rebecca Chalkley, for the prosecution, said: “This was not a film production. It was a charade. The whole purpose was to steal money from the public purse.”

They ultimately received £796,000 of public money by setting up a series of fake companies – none of which was ever recovered.

A confiscation hearing is set to take place at a later date.